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Martha Mends (MiFPT2022) was drawn to London’s fast-paced finance industry after learning about ‘the City’ as a teenager. Today, working as an Investment Associate for EMK Capital, she shares her experience of our Masters in Finance programme, her role as Chief of Staff for the Black in Business Club, and the need for more female role models in the world of private equity.
Growing up, I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by a very supportive family. As a kid, I was always good at puzzles and problem solving. This was something my parents nurtured; they always encouraged me to focus on my education, and this ultimately played a big part in getting me where I am today.
I grew up in north London and moved to Greenwich when I was nine, but despite living in London, I didn’t learn about ‘the City’ – London’s financial centre – until sixth form. It was only then that my school’s careers advisor invited me to a talk on investment banks and consulting, which I remember finding really intriguing. Until then, I’d only been exposed to professions like teaching and medicine, but all of a sudden, my eyes were opened to what felt like a new world. I was excited by the fast pace of both banking and consulting, and by the opportunity to solve complex problems. It was amazing to discover two professions that I previously had no knowledge of; they felt like a great fit for me in the future.
I studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at the University of Oxford, which was where I became curious about the world of business. Soon after graduating from Oxford, I joined a startup called COS Ventures, a London-based organisation that looks after a portfolio of new businesses, with arms in recruitment and venture capital. I worked as a business analyst focusing on growth strategies, and quickly realised I had a passion for understanding how businesses worked. There was also a heavy tech focus that really grabbed my interest. The experience at COS helped me realise that tech and strategy were two things I definitely wanted to explore in my next role.
In 2016, I joined Accenture as a Business Strategy Analyst. The role gave me the business and tech focus I was looking for, and being part of the strategy team was an incredible experience; it meant working on projects in South Africa, France, Prague and Russia. I soon learnt that being part of a global organisation had definite perks; I was gaining exposure to other areas of the business and the people in those functions, which opened my eyes to new sectors and different ways of working.
After three years at Accenture, I wanted to try something new. I was working on projects for six weeks at a time, but once the strategy element was over, I rarely found out about the execution and the impact my work had had on the business in question. I wanted to be part of the process from start to finish, and having been exposed to business modelling and valuations, I’d become interested in the intersection between business strategy and investment banking. After doing my research, I decided that private equity would be a good fit. So I decided to try it out – securing the role of Investment Associate at EMK Capital, a pan-European mid-market private equity firm.
“There’s nothing quite like hearing positive feedback from our community; when a student gets in touch to tell you that a coffee chat or event has helped them secure a new role, we know we’re really making a difference”
After joining the world of private equity, I realised that despite my experience at Accenture, I had no formal finance training – and that’s where the MiF came in. Most of my colleagues were ex-bankers or had accounting backgrounds and I soon realised there was a lot for me to learn.
I was looking for a solid foundation in finance and knew from living in London that LBS would be a great option. The campus is near my office in Marble Arch, in the heart of the city, and was the perfect place to build my network. It was also important that I could study part-time; I wanted to continue moving forward with my career rather than taking time out.
During my undergraduate degree at Oxford, I hadn’t worked on many team-based projects, so the group-orientated nature of the MiF was a good change. Many of the electives at LBS centre on team tasks, which brings a whole new dimension to the programme and what and how you’re learning. Suddenly you’re exposed to a range of perspectives and different ideas on how to solve problems. Working in groups also helps you to get to know your classmates, build mutual trust and develop friendships
Studying part-time means you can apply what you’re learning in your role instantly. What’s great is that it’s not only my knowledge that’s growing every week, but my confidence too. Testing new concepts and working out how to apply them in a real-life context means I can return to the programme, discuss how it went with my cohort and faculty, and find out what I could improve on.
As a woman working in private equity, I’ve seen some improvements when it comes to the gender split, but there’s still a way to go. ‘Level 20’ inspires more women to join and to succeed in the private equity industry, providing a safe space to grow professionally. Representation is one of the biggest challenges women face at work, and that’s something that ‘Level 20’ is helping with. I do think the business world as a whole is making an effort to address gender imbalance and move into a new era. But as a woman, I still find myself looking for female role models in senior positions in my industry. I’m very conscious of this, and hope to inspire and support other women by paying forward all the opportunities I’ve been given so far.
“The technical finance skills I’ve gained on the MiF have given me the confidence to perform my job to the highest level, but I’ll also leave with a much stronger network, which is invaluable when working on the buy-side”
I joined the Black in Business (BiB) Club to help increase opportunities for people of African and Caribbean heritage and spread awareness of the obstacles we face. I was lucky that my sixth form career advisor introduced me to the City and its various sectors; with the lack of diversity in these industries it’s clear that people of African and Caribbean heritage are less likely to know about some of the opportunities out there. Through the BiB Club, I’m able to play my part in putting that right – connecting students with job opportunities and highlighting the issues facing African and Caribbean people in the business world. If something doesn’t affect you, you’re less likely to understand it, but thanks to the Club, I can be an agent of change, helping to address these problems.
Sitting across the Club’s different departments as Chief of Staff gives me a holistic view of all the amazing work we’re doing. Whether it’s our teams working with the LBS community to bring on board alumni who can share their wisdom and experiences, the careers division connecting students with job opportunities, or the finance arm raising funding, it’s inspiring to see how we’re all working to drive things forward. I also support the Executive Committee with specific initiatives, like our Black CV database, designed to ensure students of African and Caribbean descent feel supported and recognised.
Although the Club is still in its infancy, we’ve achieved so much already, including enlisting Amazon as our first major sponsor for different careers events. To have backing from one of the world’s leading tech brands is unbelievable, and testament to the dedication of our team. Another achievement has been showcasing excellence in the Black community through our speaker series, bringing on board the likes of Wol Kolade, Managing Partner of Livingbridge and former NBA player and organisational psychologist John Amaechi OBE. There’s also the Black Inclusion Network, which connects BiB with different clubs and programmes at LBS – like the Women in Business Club and the Out in Business Club – to collaborate and work together on future cross-School initiatives. There’s nothing quite like hearing positive feedback from our community; when a student gets in touch to tell you that a coffee chat or event has helped them secure a new role, we know we’re really making a difference.
I’ve always strived for excellence so after graduation, I’m looking to return to my role full-time at EMK Capital as a better version of myself. The technical finance skills I’ve gained on the MiF have given me the confidence to perform my job to the highest level, but I’ll also leave with a much stronger network, which is invaluable when working on the buy-side. I now know a lot more people working in London’s finance industry than I did when I started.
The pandemic has created a rare opportunity for self-reflection for us all. On the work front, it’s been eye-opening to see what can be achieved virtually. Gone is that need to fly across the world for a project or meeting; the potential of virtual working now looks limitless, which is truly exciting.